EvenBet Gaming CMO Ekaterina Giganova considers how online poker has become a source of entertainment far beyond the gaming sector.

Finding the perfect escape during these days of limited travel, no mass gatherings and strict social distancing rules remains a challenge, with many countries continuing to tighten restrictions while some may even re-introduce the COVID-19 lockdown.

One sector to benefit in recent months is online poker, which has become more popular not just as a ‘play-and-win’ activity, but also as an entertainment tool for industry and corporate events. So what’s the story behind this success?

How did poker fare these months?

The resurgence and rediscovery of online poker began in the early days of the pandemic. The initial avalanche of requests coming in to EvenBet as a poker software developer came largely from existing gaming ventures seeking to diversify their business, mostly sports betting operators and brick-and-mortar casinos.

Then, when it became clear that the restrictions were here to stay, for the medium-term at least, so came requests from offline poker clubs and leagues, and bar-poker associations looking to resume their activities.

Around the same time, industry events also went online and, for every conference or summit, organisers strived to provide networking and entertainment options. Attending most of them (even just briefly, at times), I have seen all the possibilities, from slots contests to industry video chat roulettes – but poker was one of the most in-demand options from the outset.

We at EvenBet Gaming organised our first tournament for event delegates at the SBC Digital Summit at the end of April and received lots of feedback, positive and useful.

In the summer, online poker as a source of entertainment at events began to get the attention of non-gaming companies. The requests we have received have been quite diverse: from running tournaments for charities; to hosting an event for a big corporation; to providing entertainment for an online conference outside the online gaming industry. For example, in August, we successfully hosted a private tournament for an international company with headquarters in the US.

Why poker?

There are three main reasons that event organisers want to hold poker tournaments. Firstly, it is simple to learn at the amateur level; the rules of Texas Hold ’em, the most popular poker type, are very straightforward. Unless you want to make a living playing, it would take you around 15 minutes to learn the game stages and the card combinations.

Secondly, being a game of chance and no less exciting than roulette or a slot machine, poker involves a lot of interaction between players. While working remotely, keeping socially distant and staying away from mass live events, we are missing a lot of non-work-related interactions that are just for fun.

Finally, in terms of technology, modern online poker doesn’t require anything from a player
except a device connected to the internet.

Only a few games combine intensive social interaction, barrier-free ease of use, and the
excitement of gambling – and poker is probably the most well-known of those.

What does this revolution mean for online poker?

With four out of five companies sure that some degree of remote working is here to stay, with workers living under some form of restriction for more months to come, it seems highly unlikely that we will soon return to running live events the same way we did a year ago.

The most interesting question is whether the whole vertical is going to adapt to the new
demands and strengthen the social benefits of online poker. Will we provide event-oriented
gaming solutions to start a tournament out-of-box in a couple of hours?

Are we going to add more social interaction features to the classic poker formats, in addition to the chats, private tables, and clubs that were existing for a long time? How soon will we see fully-functional video chats for the poker rooms following this year’s success of Zoom and Houseparty?

The recent trends help vendors and operators open new markets and gain more players, yes, but beyond that, they provide valuable insights for product development, highlighting new scenarios in which people turn to online gaming and the unexpected ways in which we could improve the user experience.